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Representative of the highs and lows
on 14 November 2005
In many reviews of the ‘best of OMD’ people have charted the growing ‘sophistication’ of their music, from the debut to ‘Pacific Age’ Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark refined their technique, with the odd misstep like ‘Dazzle Ships’, set aside clichéd politics and kraftwerk-ian ideals in favour of tight melody and pop logic. Admittedly from one point of view this is true. ‘Best of OMD’ contains some great pop. Rarely has a best of summarised a groups rise and fall, not only musically but in terms of popularity. In their early years they found success producing new wave electronics and experimental sounds capes, but ironically as the group sort commercialism, interest (in the UK) vanished.
Tracks 1 to 10 and 16 are singles from OMD’s first 5 albums. ‘Electricity’ is a new wave staple, a bouncy, catchy classic. ‘Enola Gay’ is even better; a great memorable pop song, with a melody that is impossible to forget, ‘Joan of Arc’ and ‘Telegraph’ both continue in a similar vein. In between the unabashed pop music are songs that are grander and reflective. ‘Maid of Orleans’ especially is a brilliant heartbreaking masterpiece, and one of the most un-formulaic songs ever to become a hit.
‘Tesla Girls’, ‘Locomotion’ and ‘Talking Loud and Clear’ are from OMD’s fifth and as it would turn out, last great album ‘Junk Culture’, these are all in essence typical OMD but with a commercial and upbeat take on their sound. For some reason ‘Genetic Engineering’ from 1983’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ is out of place it’s possibly the oddest single of their career and taken in context with tracks 1-10 it fits nicely. Also it’s a shame that ‘Never Turn Away’ isn’t here, it was the final single from ‘Junk Culture’.
After Junk Culture OMD chose to go all out and make lightweight bubbly pop. Tracks 11 onwards feature OMD’s commercial side. ‘So in Love’ and ‘Secret’ are passable pop songs. The rest is practically un-listenable, full of jarring synths where gorgeous choir sounds once appeared, Andy McCluskey’s voice once passionate if a bit screechy now wobbles all over the place, this is most painful on ‘If You Leave’, apparently a big hit in the USA.
It’s really sad, because without the later half, this Cd would have sat well next to New Order’s Substance or Depeche Mode’s singles albums. Early OMD did pop and alternative music brilliantly, but dip into any of the first 5 albums and you’ll hear their real legacy, music that is as experimental and avant-garde as Neu! Kraftwerk, Bowie, Eno or Joy Division, and really worth seeking out.
‘Best of OMD’ is the best career retrospective available, the ‘OMD singles’ isn’t really worth your time since it drops much of the early material in favour of their 90s output, which to be blunt isn’t up to much. If you’re new to OMD this is a good overview or you’ll at least get a good idea which period you enjoy.